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PH American Top 100

 | Lists |

  BY PH Staff

When Federico Fellini won the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement, he said, “I come from a country, and I belong to a generation, for whom America and the movies were almost the same thing.”

That remains true even to a generation in its infancy when Fellini won his Oscar in the early 90s, a few months before his death. As Indians, we continue to distinguish themselves between local films and American films . But what does American cinema mean to us? Is it the splashy Hollywood blockbusters, the sappy Oscar movies, those older classics which your parents saw at first run? Or is it possible to look at American cinema with fresh eyes, to explore the greatest national and narrative film tradition in the world in a new manner.

American film history constitutes a narrative unto itself, especially since what is American is different for people inside and outside America. When the American Film Institute (AFI) put out a list of 100 films in 1998, its results were highly criticized by several commentators, such as Roger Ebert and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum wrote a critique titled “List-O-Mania” criticizing the AFI List for the narrative it creates by exclusion, one that was self-satisfying rather than critical of American society, that drew from historical and popular consensus rather than aesthetic and technical impact, hostile to experimental, avant-garde and genre cinema. Rosenbaum found the best way to respond to a list. Create another list. His Alternate 100 American Films, restricted to one film per director and excluding any film in the AFI list, challenged many people’s ideas on how a national cinema can be celebrated.

Recently BBC put out a list of 100 American films. Its focus was possibly even more conservative than the 1998 AFI List or indeed the lesser known 2007 list (which, perhaps not coincidentally, did feature a few titles from Rosenbaum’s Alternate 100 list), and to our eyes, excessively geared to recent films and populist titles. We did not think or notice this list much, but as a result of in-office discussions and general excitement, we felt determined to make our own list, mostly to see how it would resemble or differ from the lists put out by AFI, BBC and Jonathan Rosenbaum. The results were interesting. There are 25 films that we share in common with the BBC list, 13 in common with the AFI list and 19 in common with Mr. Rosenbaum’s list. This proves that aside from a small crop of famous and obscure titles, the vast majority of titles that round up a hundred remain up in the air.

In general, we tried, as far as possible to avoid crowding out film-makers with multiple titles. But given our auteurist bent, we could entirely follow through with it, since some film-makers are more equal than others. Orson Welles leads the pack with four films on the list, followed by 3 from Scorsese, Altman and Nicholas Ray. Hitchcock, Ford, Sternberg, Lubitsch, Hawks, Coppola, Keaton among others? 2 each. In terms of genres, there is perhaps more Films Noir than Westerns, more comedies than musicals. We also have a lot more non-fiction films, 12 in all though it might be 13 or 15 based on whether a few other titles qualify as fiction or not.

In general, we have tried to include lesser known American titles in favor of established classics. As such titles like Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Godfather are not featured in this list but a few favorites do make it into this list nonetheless. Other exclusions were far more painful.

The list of film-makers not on the list – James Benning, Elaine May, D. W. Griffith, Raoul Walsh, George Cukor, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Frank Capra, Douglas Sirk, Busby Berkeley, Stanley Donen, Richard Fleischer, Andre de Toth, Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Roger Corman, Budd Boetticher, Peter Bogdanovich, Steven Spielberg, John Milius, Spike Lee, Ken Jacobs, Hollis Frampton, Shirley Clarke, Jonas Mekas, Wes Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Gus van Sant etc.

One can make an alternative list of 100 films composed of films by these men and women. The reason why they didn’t make it is mostly because in the case of Shirley Clarke, her most notable titles such as The Cool World are still not on home video. In the case of Ken Jacobs, others had not seen their films and we couldn’t get consensus. In the case of Wes Anderson, it was hard to find a single defining “official” classic since his films are consistently good to the point that it’s hard to select one outstanding film. There are still even more movies we have not yet seen, such as the works of Hollis Frampton for instance. We have also excluded animation even though some of us appreciate the work of Chuck Jones and Tex Avery, and others are keyed to the works of Oscar Fishinger.

The big exclusion is the films of Charlie Chaplin. Lest people think we have finally converted from Chaplin to Keaton (who gets two films and would have gotten more if only one more of us had seen Our Hospitality at the time of voting), we strongly agree with Jean-Pierre Melville who likewise excluded Chaplin from his exhaustive list of great American directors, "because he is God, and therefore beyond classification”. That is true of all the great film-makers in general.

This list is merely an activity of play, coming out of spontaneous energy. It is not definitive but it is definitely sincere in our attempts at selecting the best and most meaningful films. As Jonathan Rosenbaum stated in his article, “In the final analysis, selecting America's 100 greatest movies has to be an ongoing, perpetual activity of exploration and discovery--something that can only happen if we stop to consider what we still don't know about the subject and try to set up some channels for educating ourselves.”

The list is alphabetical and not in any order:

  1. Ace in the Hole (1951) Billy Wilder
  2. The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes (1971) by Stan Brakhage
  3. All the Vermeers of NY (1990) by Jon Jost
  4. Angel Face (1952) by Otto Preminger
  5. Apocalypse Now (1979) by Francis Ford Coppola
  6. The Asphalt Jungle (1954) by John Huston
  7. At Land (1941) by Maya Deren 
  8. At Sea (2007) by Peter Hutton 
  9. Attack! (1956) by Robert Aldrich 
  10. Bad Lieutenant (1992) by Abel Ferrara



     
  11. Badlands (1973) by Terrence Malick
  12. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007) by Sidney Lumet
  13. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) by William Wyler
  14. The Big Combo (1955) by Joseph H. Lewis
  15. The Big Parade (1925) by King Vidor
  16. The Big Red One (1980) by Samuel Fuller
  17. Bigger than Life (1956) by Nicholas Ray
  18. Blow Out (1982) by Brian De Palma
  19. Blue Collar (1978) by Paul Schrader
  20. Blue Velvet (1986) by David Lynch



     
  21. Broadway Danny Rose (1984) by Woody Allen
  22. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) by James Whale
  23. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) by Sam Peckinpah
  24. Bringing Up Baby (1939) by Howard Hawks
  25. The Cameraman (1925) by Buster Keaton
  26. Canyon Passage (1946) by Jacques Tourneur
  27. Chelsea Girls (1966) by Andy Warhol
  28. The Children Were Watching (1961) by Richard Leacock
  29. Citizen Kane (1941) by Orson Welles
  30. The Clock (1945) by Vincente Minnelli



     
  31. Cockfighter (1974) by Monte Hellman
  32. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1990) by Woody Allen
  33. The Crowd (1928) by King Vidor
  34. East of Eden (1956) by Elia Kazan
  35. Eyes Wide Shut (1999) by Stanley Kubrick
  36. F for Fake (1973) by Orson Welles
  37. Faces (1966) by John Cassavetes
  38. The General (1926) by Buster Keaton
  39. Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai (1997) by Jim Jarmusch
  40. The Girl Can't Help It (1956) by Frank Tashlin



     
  41. Goodfellas (1990) by Martin Scorsese
  42. The Great Train Robbery (1903) by Edwin S. Porter
  43. Greed (1924) by Eric von Stroheim
  44. Grey Gardens (1975) by Ellen Hovde, Albert Mayseles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer
  45. In a Lonely Place (1950) by Nicholas Ray
  46. Johnny Guitar (1953) by Nicholas Ray
  47. The King of Comedy (1983) by Martin Scorsese
  48. Klute (1971) by Alan J. Pakula
  49. The Ladies Man (1961) by Jerry Lewis
  50. Let There be Light (1946) by John Huston



     
  51. Leviathan (2012) by Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor
  52. The Long Goodbye (1974) by Robert Altman
  53. Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) by Thom Andersen
  54. Lost Book Found (1996) by Jem Cohen
  55. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) by Orson Welles
  56. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962) by John Ford
  57. Marnie (1964) by Alfred Hitchcock
  58. McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1973) by Robert Altman
  59. Ms. 45 (1982) by Abel Ferrara
  60. Mystery Train (1989) by Jim Jarmusch



     
  61. News from Home (1978) by Chantal Akerman
  62. Night of the Demon (1958) by Jacques Tourneur
  63. The Night of the Hunter (1956) by Charles Laughton
  64. Once Upon a Time in America (1984) by Sergio Leone
  65. Point Blank (1967) by John Boorman
  66. The Prowler (1951) by Joseph Losey
  67. Putney Swope (1969) by Robert Downey Sr.
  68. Route One/USA (1989) by Robert Kramer
  69. Real Life (1979) by Albert Brooks
  70. The Reckless Moment (1949) by Max Ophuls



     
  71. Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979) by Jeff Margolis
  72. Rumble Fish (1983) by Francis Ford Coppola
  73. The Salvation Hunters (1924) by Josef von Sternberg
  74. Scarface (1933) by Howard Hawks
  75. The Scarlet Empress (1934) by Josef von Sternberg
  76. The Searchers (1956) by John Wayne
  77. The Shop Around the Corner (1940) by Ernst Lubitsch
  78. Sita Sings the Blues (2008) by Nina Paley
  79. Story of G.I.Joe (1945) by William A. Wellman
  80. Sullivan's Travels (1943) by Preston Sturges



     
  81. Sunrise: Song of Two Humans (1926) by F.W. Murnau
  82. Tabu (1931) by F.W. Murnau
  83. Tanner '88 (1988) by Robert Altman
  84. Taxi Driver (1976) by Martin Scorsese
  85. There Will be Blood (2007) by Paul Thomas Anderson
  86. The Thin Blue Line (1988) by Errol Morris
  87. The Thing (1982) by John Carpenter
  88. Titicut Follies (1967) by Frederick Wiseman
  89. To Be or Not to Be (1942) by Ernst Lubitsch
  90. Touch of Evil (1958) by Orson Welles



     
  91. Two Men in Manhattan (1959) by Jean-Pierre Melville
  92. Two Lovers (2008) by James Gray
  93. Unforgiven (1992) by Clint Eastwood
  94. The Unspeakable Act (2013) by Dan Sallitt
  95. Vertigo (1958) by Alfred Hitchcock
  96. Wanda (1970) by Barbara Loden
  97. While the City Sleeps (1956) by Fritz Lang
  98. A Woman Under the Influence (1974) by John Cassavetes
  99. Zabriskie Point (1970) by Michelangelo Antonioni
  100. Zodiac (2007) by David Fincher